On the day we call Palm Sunday, Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a young donkey. He came to celebrate the ancient Passover with his fellow Jews. This was a dangerous move. In Jerusalem were powerful people who hated Jesus and wanted Him dead. Imagine Condoleeza Rice riding into Baghdad on a bicycle and you’ve got the picture. His own men had argued with Him about the wisdom of the trip. But Jesus was determined. One thing about Jesus, when He set His mind to do something, it was done.
Yet, there’s no trace of arrogance in Jesus. No bullying. He’s a hero, a superstar, but one who comes without the trappings of power. He’s healed the sick, raised the dead. There are certain evangelists who claim to do the same. They don’t travel on a donkey or even in an old VW. They fly, and First Class too.
It’s almost funny to see a man many were calling King riding into town on little donkey that probably wasn’t much bigger than he was! Not even a saddle on the thing, just coats for a cushion. This is not the President of the U.S. riding in a bulletproof limo accompanied by 26 other vehicles. This is not Donald Trump coming in on his helicopter. This isn’t a Roman general on a prancing white stallion.
Yet Jesus knew what He what He was doing. He knew the old prophecy, “Your king comes to you humble on a donkey’s colt.” If Jesus had been about power, he would have worn that badge. If His Kingdom were political, He would have slung a sword and crucified his enemies. If He were a manipulator, for whom the end justifies the means, there’d be no need for anyone to preach. We’d all be thoroughly converted already, having had no say in the matter.
“Your King comes to you humble on a donkey’s colt.” His kingdom is hard for us to see, easy for us to miss, because God comes humbly. Some of the most powerful, God-revealing moments I’ve ever experienced haven’t come on the back of a white stallion. They haven’t come in a grandiose way.
There are people in this church, for example, who do things without fanfare. They see you sitting alone and call for you to come sit with them. They surprise you with their generosity. They don’t talk a lot, but when they do, you remember what they said. They do things most of us don’t know about – because they do them humbly. But riding on these “little donkeys,” riding on these little acts of love and service, is the King Himself.
Still, we don’t do nice things for one another just to be nice. We do them in the name of Jesus and for His sake. The King comes on donkey, but He’s still the King. God comes humbly – but He’s still God. Jesus is a man . . . but a man quite comfortable being worshipped.
Larry King has stated that he would love to interview Jesus, asking Him, “Are you virgin-born?” He says, “The answer to that question would define history for me.” I can think of some other questions for King to ask Jesus: How did you know where that donkey’s colt would be tied? How did you know its owners would ask what your men were doing with it? And how, Sir, do you justify sending two men to take what wasn’t yours?
“Well, Larry, it’s like this. The colt was mine to begin with.”
He told his men to tell those men, “The Lord needs it.” Think about that statement: The Lord needs it. Who besides Jesus talks like this about himself – as though he owned the place? Not Buddha, not Mohammed, not Moses. No other founder of a world religion ever so much as hinted that he might be more than a man.
Yet when Jesus talks like this, we church folks roll over and go back to sleep. We’ve heard Him talk like this all our lives. Don’t miss the staggering implications! Think about what He tells the Pharisees later in Luke 19. The Celebrate Jesus party is warmed up and rolling toward Jerusalem: “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” How does Jesus react? “Oh, come on, guys! It’s not about me!” The Pharisee says, “Get your people under control!” Jesus replies, “Oh, we’re sorry! We don’t want to give the wrong impression.”
Is that what He says? “If these were silent, the rocks would cry out.” I find that one of the strangest and most thrilling statements ever to fall from the lips of man – but only because I believe Jesus is more than a man.
As C.S. Lewis wrote, “A man who was merely a man and who said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would be a lunatic – on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg . . . You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse.”
Because God doesn’t write JESUS CHRIST IS LORD above the rising sun every morning; because He doesn’t send city-sized spaceships with angelic messengers flying out the portals, declaring, “Jesus is the way;” because Jesus lived when there were neither cameras nor recording equipment; because God likes to reveal Himself among unimportant, funny-looking people like us; because God came humbly . . . some people think He didn’t come at all. They fail in two ways: First, they fail to look at what are here – the New Testament and the Church. Second, they fail to think about the implications.
Some of us remember Palm Sunday as a day for children to parade down the center aisle of the church carrying palm branches. Some of us think of Palm Sunday as the Sunday that reminds us next Sunday is Easter Sunday – better hurry up and buy those Easter baskets! How about thinking of Palm Sunday this way: D-Day. The Day of Divinity. The first day of a week that quietly shook the world: the prelude to His passion and the launching of His Lordship.
The King came humbly. He didn’t look like the King many were expecting. So Jerusalem rejected Him – like He knew they would. As the city came into view, as He saw the magnificent temple gleaming like silver, Jesus wept. Tears leak from his eyes and spill onto his donkey’s mane. He can no longer hear the shouts, the praise. In a few days, some of the same people who hollered “Hosanna!” would be screaming, “Crucify!” – like He knew they would.
But that’s not why Jesus cried. He was not thinking of Himself, but what was going to happen to a people who rejected Him. Forty years. That’s all Jerusalem had left. Then the Romans would lay siege. Inside the walls of the city, people would be reduced to animals. Mothers would cook their own babies. The dead would lie in heaps. When it was all over, not one stone of that magnificent temple – a house it took 40 years to build – would be left lying on another.
Who is Jesus – King, God, Judge? Here is a Judge . . . who weeps. He never points at us and says, “You’ll be sorry.” No, He is sorry. Jesus doesn’t need to condemn us. His mere presence puts us on trial. His presence demands a decision. Our decision will be our judge.
Speaking of judges, do you remember last year when Brian Nichols shot four people in Georgia, including a judge? Fleeing from justice, he entered the home of Ashley Smith. He bound her with duct tape, threatening to kill her if she resisted. What did Ashley do? She began to read to him from The Purpose-Driven Life and to talk to him about God. Seven hours later, Brian Jones gave himself up. A story that could have ended in blood and fire and smoke ended with peaceful surrender.
In her Wall Street Journal column, Peggy Noonan reprinted a transcript of Ashley Smith’s testimony. From this woman’s simple, unadorned story, it’s quite evident that Brian Jones met Jesus in her apartment. What a great story – a murderer sees the love of God in Jesus Christ!
I’ll tell you a better story. We’ve all broken the Law. We’re all fugitives. In fact, we’re responsible for the murder of the Judge! But He will forgive. He will embrace. His arms are open wide to receive us. Don’t let those arms stay empty. Don’t ignore Jesus. Don’t allow the problems and issues of your life to obscure Him. Be careful what you do with Him. He is the issue.
Gary D. Robinson is Preaching Minister at Conneautville Church of Christ in Conneautville, PA.